Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

The Roman Empire: Its Grandeur and Fall


The Roman Empire was the most durable political structure in the history of Europe. Its decline has served as a basis for comparisons with the trajectory of the United States today. This introductory seminar will explore a global approach to human history through a focus on the centuries of the Roman Empire and its decline (the 1st through the 5th centuries C.E.). The basic questions motivating the seminar include the following: What was the political and military glue that held this diverse, multiethnic empire together? What were the sources of wealth, and how was it unequally distributed through Roman society? What were the possibilities and limits of economic growth? How integrated was the Empire in culture and religion? What were the causes and consequences of the conversion to Christianity? Why did the Roman Empire fall in the West? And how suitable is the analogy to the United States in the 21st century? 


Meet the Instructor(s)

Richard Saller

"As a professor of Roman history in our Classics Department, I am committed to exploring how the past illuminates the modern world. You may be surprised to learn that I actually started college in an engineering program and was thriving—but then I took a course in Roman history to satisfy a distribution requirement and never turned back. Today, as a historian of Ancient Rome, I use archival materials and computer simulations to investigate issues of social hierarchy, gender distinctions, and economic production and inequality in the ancient world. When I'm not teaching or chairing the Classics Department, you may find me navigating the Santa Cruz mountains on my road bike, or walking my dogs with my wife, Tanya Luhrmann, who is an anthropology professor at Stanford."